Stephen Fry, Russell Brand and the caring, sharing revolution
As Stephen Fry has shown, comedians are seizing the mic from the traditional media and doing it their way. The caring, sharing revolution starts here.
By Dominic Cavendish
3:10PM BST 06 Jun 2013
Say what you like about Stephen Fry but his ability to capture newspaper headlines while remaining steadfastly averse to giving interviews to the press is one of the wonders of his aegis as BritainÂ’s favourite wit and raconteur.
The fact that he chose to divulge the alarming fact that he attempted suicide last year to Richard Herring at the latterÂ’s regular Leicester Square podcast recording was a coup for HerringÂ’s reliably entertaining series Â– albeit a tribute to the questioning powers of 12-year-olds, it being the relayed inquiry of Ben, the podcast producerÂ’s son (Â“What is it like being Stephen Fry?Â”), chucked in after one hour and 20 minutes of amiable chat, that prompted the confession.
The interview, wide-ranging and consistently fascinating, has been available for paid-for downloads on video for a few days now Â– and should now be also accessible in audio at HerringÂ’s site.
Shorn of context, FryÂ’s revelations about his dangerous cocktail of vodka and pills, his convulsions, his broken ribs, his narrow escape, the anguish behind the beneficent cheer and so on, sound like harrowing dispatches from celebrity hell. But the joviality of the occasion as well as its frankness is what comes across in the recording, and only moments later, Fry is regaling the audience with an insight into the panic that set in when he got booked to entertain a capacity crowd at the Sydney Opera House, while in transit to film The Hobbit, without having the foggiest idea what he was going to talk about before stepping on stage.
Herring is rightly both modest and proud on his blog about this eye-opening session: Â“Fry is everything you could hope for and more, with a vulnerability and honesty that makes him even more loveable and intriguing. Tonight was one of my most extraordinary experiences on stage and you know I don't bandy that kind of s--- around. I love to write about my failures more than my successes and tonight was much more about Stephen than me. I was honoured enough that he turned up at all. But he stayed and talked for 90 minutes and shared things that he hasn't shared anywhere else.Â”
Sharing things that havenÂ’t been shared anywhere else Â– and using cheap technology and the power of the internet to share it swiftly far and wide Â– has been the order of the week. Surprise is a key ingredient not just of many a gag but of how comedians more generally can deliver DIY wake-up calls to the public, and there have been several notable examples in the past few days. Mark Thomas was filmed taking part in a protest flash mob and scraped-together Irish fiddle band that briefly colonised the Apple Store on RegentÂ’s Street to highlight the companyÂ’s alleged tax evasion with anarchic good humour.
That rough and ready guerrilla stunt forms part of the build-up to his latest show: 100 Acts of Minor Dissent. You could almost consider it the first Edinburgh Fringe flyer of the season.
Also treading an interesting line between activism and promotion, and bringing the masses closer to his world view, Russell Brand gets down and cheeky with homeless Americans in this YouTube teaser flagging up his new world tour: Messiah Complex, UK tickets for which mainly go on sale from this Saturday at 9am:
For some time Brand has been sounding a lot like Christ, various Hindu gods and the Spirit of the Sixties rolled into one, and his blog pronouncements on russellbrand.tv in the wake of the Woolwich outrage promulgated a Â“we must love one another or dieÂ” message worthy of the pulpit: Â“The murderers want angry patriots to desecrate mosques and perpetuate violence,Â” he wrote. Â“How futile their actions seem if we instead leave flowers at each otherÂ’s places of worship. LetÂ’s reach out in the spirit of love and humanity and connect to one another, perhaps we will then see what is really behind this conflict, this division, this hatred and make that our focus.Â”
If only life were that simple you might say, but in a way what this trinity of pop-up comedic surprises has shown us is that life CAN be made better, quite simply. Brand has a saving sense of irony and quite happily allows the cranksters around him to hijack his short street video with their entertaining ravings. Comedians can be a conduit for general communication - about depression, social injustice or the borderline between mental illness and religious extremism - not simply a channel unto themselves. What weÂ’re seeing here isn't technology being harnessed just to push egos our way but something else, something exciting. Not Â“Me the comedian/ You the audienceÂ” but Â“UsÂ”. Less a case of Â“Shut up and listenÂ” and more a case of Â“Why not letÂ’s talk?Â”.